Lake Ōhau fire a year later: still reminders there – but “a lot” is happening

It has been a year since a fire ravaged the alpine village of Lake Ōhau, forcing residents to flee in the middle of the night.

Longtime Lake Ōhau vacation home owner Dave Honeyfield plans to rebuild his retirement home after it was destroyed in the fire.
Photo: RNZ / Tess Brunton

About half of the homes in the remote village of the MacKenzie Basin were destroyed or damaged.

It took firefighters days to put out the blaze that engulfed more than 5,000 hectares of land.

Locals are hoping for answers when the results of an investigation are released in the coming weeks.

While walking through an empty section overlooking Lake Ōhau, Dave Honeyfield came across a rusty metal fireplace with a burnt pan and other cooking utensils – all that was left of one of its properties.

Honeyfield lost four in total that night – two houses, an apartment and a sleepover.

Rebuild a year after the fire that swept through the alpine village of Lake Ōhau.

Rebuilding a year after the fire that swept through the alpine village of Lake Ōhau
Photo: RNZ / Tess Brunton

“Coming back here before Christmas, even though I wasn’t allowed to live, it was basically like a victory over fire if you could say that, because we’re really happy until the wind comes back, and then the memories come back. “

Honeyfield, who lived in Dunedin, still planned to rebuild and retire to Lake Ōhau.

But for now, he had brought an old classroom turned into a three-bedroom house on one of his properties.

“We have completed the bridge so it looks a little more respectable. It comes from a school in Christchurch, leftovers after the earthquake and it has been totally refitted and we are happy with it. Very easy to install. on the back of a truck and drop it here. “

Overall he was happy to be back.

“You’re never going to plan something like that and it’s just a nightmare for a lot of people but we also… crossed the other side and that’s the key. Forward and up.”

The Mayor of Waitaki, Gary Kircher, at Lake Ōhau

The Mayor of the District of Waitaki, Gary Kircher.
Photo: RNZ / Tess Brunton

Residents gathered on the shores of Lake Ōhau on Sunday to thank local firefighters for their bravery.

Waitaki District Mayor Gary Kircher said it was important to recognize their work.

“Thanks to their bravery and a good number of locals, this is the reason why we had no deaths that night and why we have so many houses that were saved. It was because of these firefighters so there is a lot to be thankful for. “

The municipal fund – which received $ 100,000 from the government – covers various costs, including building permits, clearing blackened trees and removing 550 roadside stumps.

“There are always the callbacks there. There are still burnt trees, still empty sections where there were houses before. But also … a lot of things are happening. There have been a lot of trees. cut off. from these scars, but… also houses arose. “

Discussions between the local council and Fire and Emergency were underway to determine what else can be done to protect the village.

Individual alarms for houses connected to a central system and a second fire siren were possible options.

A forest lined part of the road to The Barn at Killin B&B – but none survived the fire.

The Barn at Killin B&B co-owners Dwayne and Hugh

The Barn at Killin B&B, co-owners Hugh Spiers and Dwayne.
Photo: RNZ / Tess Brunton

B&B co-owner Hugh Spiers was looking on the bright side when a local contractor began the early stages of reconstruction by preparing to install water tanks.

“Our beautiful forest has burned down and has now been chopped down and washed away and left us with these beautiful and majestic landscapes that we knew to be there but couldn’t quite see because of the trees.

“So we turned that into a positive.”

He was grateful for the many random acts of kindness over the past year from a very supportive community.

“The grieving process, having lost a property has been very traumatic. There is no rule book and… people deal with it very differently.

“But we’ve been there for each other and I think it just shows a great community spirit.”

Hugh Spiers was eager to resume his activities and hoped they would be well settled in their distinctive barn well before the second anniversary.

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